Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in the cross-hairs of many conservatives earlier this spring with a DHS report outlining possible sources of right-wing extremism -- including soldiers returning from Iraq. Attacks on abortion doctor and DC Holocaust Memorial force a new look.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is perhaps owed a partial apology:
In April, she was the target of much criticism coming from conservatives because of the release of a DHS report on possible violent behavior from "right-wing extremist" groups. Mainstream conservatives thought that the report was designed to intimidate into silence legitimate groups concerned about illegal immigration and abortion. Napolitano fought back:
In her statement Wednesday, Ms. Napolitano defended the report, which says "right-wing extremism" may include groups opposed to abortion and immigration, as merely one among several threat assessments. But she agreed to meet with the head of the American Legion, who had expressed anger over the report, when she returns to Washington next week from a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border.
"The document on right-wing extremism sent last week by this department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis is one in an ongoing series of assessments to provide situational awareness to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States," Ms. Napolitano said in her statement.
The only area where she did back down was in apologizing to veterans for unintentional offense.
However, after a two-week period that has seen an abortion doctor shot to death in church and a white supremacist attack the DC Holocaust Museum, killing a black security guard in the process, the DHS report seems prescient. Indeed, Scott Roeder, accused killer of abortion doctor George Tiller, warned that more such incidents are possible.
Now, the complementary left-wing extremism study -- released two months before --- focuses on, “left-wing groups within the animal rights, environmental, and anarchist extremist movements that promote or have conducted criminal or terrorist activities.”
However, Napolitano said about the same time, that she wanted to minimize phrases like, "Islamist terrorism," because it reflects the "politics of fear." Why then is there no DHS report that could be said to anticipate recent incidents involving homegrown Islamist extremism? In New York, four American Muslims were arrested in connection to their plot to blow up Bronx synagogues and shoot a plane out of the sky.
Yes, thanks to an informer, the plan never got anywhere. But the plotters -- all ex-cons -- apparently became radicalized while serving time behind bars.
"Yes, I did tell the police upon my arrest that this was an act of retaliation, and not a reaction on the soldiers personally," Muhammad said. He called it "an act, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the world, and also a retaliation on U.S. military."
In short, this was a political attack against the U.S. military -- that, while religiously motivated, was, arguably as "political" as was Scot Roeder's attack on the abortion doctor. The difference? Broadly speaking, Muhammad's motive was closer to a left-leaning view about the wrongness of U.S. military actions -- just as Roeder was, broadly speaking, acting from a right-leaning view on the wrongness of abortion.
But, again, where is the DHS report on others like Muhammad or the Bronx plotters.
Again, Napolitano is owed a partial apology. The right-wing extremism report had a certain amount of truth to it -- which conservatives should admit. But, clearly, the left-wing extremism report could be expanded to include religious fanatics acting from a direction that doesn't fit a conservative stereotype. And maybe Napolitano needs to revisit that "Islamist terrorism" phrase and start doing some more research in that direction.
Sadly, extremism in America comes in all shapes, colors and ideologies.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.